The Garden Muse: Planting fall bulbs

Published 11:00 am Friday, September 22, 2023

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the Garden Muse

Dawn Conrad

It soon will be time to plant fall bulbs/tubers that will bloom in the spring. When the ground cools and evening temperatures are consistently between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, it will be time to plant. Typically, this happens 6-8 weeks before the ground freezes. If you purchase your bulbs before the ground cools they can be stored in a dry cool (around 60*) dark place for a month or two.

Temperatures above 70 degrees may damage the flower buds. Don’t wait too long though to get them in the ground, remember they need to chill long enough to produce spring blooms. Some common fall bulbs that you will likely find in the retail stores are tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinth, crocus, hyacinth, and snow drops. Some not-so-common bulbs that can usually be obtained through mail order are Blue Bells, Christmas rose/Hellebore, Fritillary, some Iris varieties, Spring Star Flower, Striped Squill, and Winter Aconite.

When purchasing bulbs check that they are firm and not brittle. Also check that they are fresh, not rotted, or moldy. Bulbs with some dry husk around them is a good thing, it helps fight off pests and disease. Higher quality bulbs are usually a bit larger for their type. A word of caution when considering purchasing second rate or discount bulbs, their germination rate is usually not good, they have smaller blooms and often don’t return year after year.

Put some considerable thought into where you will be planting your bulbs. They must have well drained soil, or they will rot. Avoid areas prone to flooding during storms and areas where water tends to pool. Most bulbs require full sun.

If you are preparing a new garden bed for your bulbs, now is the perfect time to prepare it. First remove any yard debris, then dig your soil to at least eight inches deep, breaking it up so that it is loose and workable. If the soil lacks nutrients, some compost, or slow-release fertilizer specific to the bulbs you are planting can be mixed in. Check the label on the packaging material your bulbs came in or planting instructions for the optimal planting depth and spacing for your bulbs. Once in the ground water to fill in any air pockets, then do not water again.

When spring arrives, you should be rewarded with some beautiful colorful flowers.

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at